Hey, I’m back. It’s been a while. I temporarily lived in Atlanta, where college football is king and serious stuff happens there this weekend. I’m home now where I belong.
Let’s get started.
The Washington Huskies open another football season Saturday in Atlanta, only they’re doing it in reverse, playing what resembles a top-tier bowl game against Auburn.
Did you know that throughout the largest city in the South, there are neighborhood street signs that tell about fierce Civil War battles fought in various spots, giving a detailed account of who came over the ridge that day and who won and who lost roughly a century and a half ago, with all of these historical tidbits tucked away amid the high rises and urban sprawl? If this football game lives up to its billing, they might consider hoisting another sign.
Here are 11 questions entering this match-up, 11 because it matches the number of players on the field at one time for Washington, and 11 because everybody else does 5 or 10:
This Huskies football team is good, but how good? This game, matching the nation’s No. 6 and 9 entries in the Associated Press poll, will be the best indicator on the regular-season schedule for Washington. Win, and all sorts of magical possibilities emerge. For those with overly active imaginations, the 2018 Huskies will not become the greatest Washington football team ever. That label belongs to the 1991 team, the Emt-men. They went 12-0, bashed Nebraska and Michigan, and had all 11 offensive starters and six on defense drafted by the NFL. If this Petersen team plays and beats the other Alabama team later, the Crimson Sabans, I’ll change my mind.
Jake Browning? He’s the first Washington true freshman to start a season at quarterback. He will be a four-year starter. He’s been the Pac-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Can he get a signature win? Auburn would significantly upgrade his resume.
Biggest surprise in the starting lineup? D.J. Beavers at inside linebacker. His knees look like they fought in the Civil War. But he’s been cleared to play and start, ending the Tevis Bartlett experiment on the inside.
Next-gen breakthrough? Redshirt freshman Jaxson Kirkland will start at right guard. Twenty-eight years ago, his father Dean opened at the same position for Washington. Note that the son is four inches taller and some 25 pounds heavier than his mad-dog dad.
Receiver to watch? Chico McClatcher returns from a season-ending injury, Aaron Fuller impressed some people in spring and fall camps, and young guys continue to push the vets on the depth chart. But it’s Ty Jones's turn to take that 6-foot-4 height of his and gift of athleticism and become Browning’s No. 1 guy.
Have you ever seen a bigger Washington offensive line? It goes 6-8 and 316, 6-5 and 305, 6-1 and 300, 6-7 and 315, and 6-7 and 318. That’s Mount Rainier, Baker, Adams, Pilchuck and St. Helen’s for the little guy. The Cascade Range. To rip off a classic O-line quip, when they stand up, they can see Denver.
Can the best secondary in the country keep Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham from burning the Huskies over the top? Time for Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy to show why some consider them All-American material.
Can the Huskies beat an SEC team? Any SEC team? Technically, they’ve done it just once—Florida and Emmitt Smith in the 1989 Freedom Bowl. They also have a win over Texas A&M … before the Aggies joined the conference. Better yet, can they beat a team from the state of Alabama?
Biggest Washington drawback? We got used to watching Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria effortlessly run sideline to sideline in recent seasons. This second row could use a little more open-field speed.
A left-footed kicker? Petersen said the only difference is his holder has to reverse himself on the set-up. We don’t want to hear Peyton Henry, wide left.
The outcome? In this epicenter of the Southeastern Conference, where the nearest member school is located 70 miles down the road but the enthusiasm for football in general runs nonstop, it won’t be easy. It won’t be friendly. It won’t be a rout. Washington 24, Auburn 21.